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House of Commons

Thursday 19 October 1995

The House met at half-past Two o'clock

PRAYERS

[ Madam Speaker-- in the Chair ]

PRIVATE BUSINESS

Accommodation Level Crossings Bill

[Lords] ( By Order )

Order for Third Reading read.

To be read the Third time on Thursday 26 October at Seven o'clock.

City of Westminster Bill

[Lords] ( By Order ) Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [26 June]. Debate to be resumed on Thursday 26 October.

Oral Answers to Questions

HOME DEPARTMENT

Alcohol-related Crime

1. Mr. Milburn: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on alcohol-related crime.     [36504]

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. David Maclean): I am considering the report by the all-party group on alcohol misuse. Although the majority of alcohol consumption is trouble free, for some individuals there is clearly an association between offending, especially violence, and heavy alcohol abuse.

Mr. Milburn: Is the Minister aware that, according to the British Medical Association, two in three homicides and three in four stabbings are associated with alcohol misuse? Will he take this opportunity to endorse the message from the all-party group that, while people should be able to enjoy a drink without causing trouble for others, greater governmental action is needed to tackle the scale of alcohol-related crime? Will he ensure that, in future, equal priority is given to tackling alcohol-related crime as is currently given to the battle against drugs and crime?

Mr. Maclean: Action is being taken. I am considering the hon. Gentleman's report but I am loth to try to single out one category of alcohol-related crime. We must tackle alcohol abuse--various Departments are doing so--and crime. Action is being taken on those two fronts and the police are reducing crime, including violence, for the first time in 50 years. The message on sensible drinking is getting through, and these days young people drink less than their parents and older generations. Spending on beer and spirits has fallen considerably in the past 15 years.


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We shall keep up the action on all those fronts, including the education front. I commend to the hon. Gentleman a leaflet that I published when I was Minister responsible for food three years ago.

Mr. Fabricant: Is my right hon. Friend aware that police officers in Lichfield hold the view that much crime is caused by people leaving pubs all at the same time--at 11 o'clock on a Friday or Saturday night? Will his Department consider changing the licensing laws to allow staggered closing times so that some pubs could close after 11 pm and some before 11 pm?

Mr. Maclean: Those who stagger are less of a problem than those who do not. I commend to my hon. Friend or any police force concerned about that problem some of the research that has been carried out by the police research group in my Department, and some of the excellent experiments in the country. In Rhyl, the police, together with the licensing magistrate and the local authority, took on the problem and, by using their existing powers to stagger closing hours and deal with fast-food outlets on the highway, drastically reduced the level of incidents outside pubs and nightclubs. The evidence exists and it can be copied throughout the country without the need for primary legislation.

Teenage Prisoners

2. Mr. Gunnell: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what was the average length of time teenagers were kept in adult prisons whilst awaiting court cases in the last year for which figures are available.     [36505]

The Minister of State, Home Office (Miss Ann Widdecombe): The average time spent in custody on remand in Prison Service establishments by defendants aged 15 to 19 who were awaiting trial was 44 days in 1994.

Mr. Gunnell: Is not seven weeks in an adult prison likely to have a detrimental effect on youngsters and teenagers who have not been tried? Is it not a scandal that we are proceeding so slowly on getting additional facilities? Is the Minister aware that in 1991 when I was chair of social services in Leeds, we agreed additional facilities--an extra nine places-- which were to go ahead at some time, but that five years later that still has not happened and we are still waiting? Why has there been so little progress?

Miss Widdecombe: If the hon. Gentleman is so concerned that young people should not be held in adult prisons, why did he vote against the Criminal Justice Act 1991 and the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, which provided more local authority-- [Hon. Members:-- "He was not here in 1991."] Let me rephrase my question. Why did the hon. Gentleman vote against the 1994 Act and his party vote against the 1991 Act? If he does not want young people to be held in adult prisons, why did he vote against the provision of more secure places in local authority accommodation?

Mr. Brazier: Was not the real scandal the level of offending on bail? Although we want to provide as many alternative secure places as possible, the Government


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were absolutely right to tighten bail conditions because that will ensure that, in future, youngsters on bail will commit fewer offences.

Miss Widdecombe: Absolutely. It is also true of course that the Opposition voted against all our improvements to bail arrangements as well. I do not think that they have any grounds for castigating us on that subject.

Mr. Michael: May I remind the Minister that we would not have had the Bail (Amendment) Act 1993 were it not for the efforts of members of the Opposition Front Bench and the votes of the Opposition? Have Ministers forgotten that it is five years since the Government promised to end the scandal of young people of 15 and 16 years of age being held either in inappropriate adult prison accommodation or in secure local government accommodation? Will the Home Secretary now explain the Government's failure to keep that promise, or will he blame someone else?

Miss Widdecombe: We can justly blame the Opposition for all the difficulties that they gave us. We can justly say that we have plans for a new-build programme not far from the hon. Gentleman's constituency. We have introduced measures to try to reduce the number of young people being held in adult prisons. As usual, the Opposition will not welcome any of that because they always want to hear bad news and they will never give credit where it is due. They simply will not accept what we have done.

Intergovernmental Conference

3. Sir Teddy Taylor: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if Her Majesty's Government will seek at the 1996 intergovernmental conference to have the declaration on border controls in the Single Act changed to be a treaty clause; and if he will make a statement.     [36506]

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Michael Howard): My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I have repeatedly made clear that we will take whatever steps are necessary to maintain our frontier controls. We see no need to decide now to take action at the intergovernmental conference, but if at any stage we think that a desirable course to take, we shall not hesitate to do so.

Sir Teddy Taylor: As a senior Commission official has stated that the declaration was added simply because the British needed something to take home with them, and as I cannot find anyone outside the Government who thinks that it has any legal standing, will the Home Secretary state clearly what the position of Her Majesty's Government would be if the European Court determined that our remaining border controls within the European Union were contrary to article 7A?

Mr. Howard: I repeat to my hon. Friend what I said a moment ago: the Government will take whatever steps necessary to maintain our frontier controls. That applies as much in the hypothetical circumstance referred to by my hon. Friend as to any other circumstances that might arise.

Dr. Howells: Despite the Secretary of State's reply to the question by his hon. Friend the Member for Southend,


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East (Sir T. Taylor)--I am not sure what on earth it meant--is it not a fact that when he and the rest of the Tory Government signed up to what is now article 7A of the treaty of Rome of 1986, they opted hook, line and sinker for a regime that means that we will be forced to give up our ability to control our frontiers? We will have to give up the means to combat drug runners, international criminals and the gangsters who control illegal immigration. Other than continue to display governmental indolence, what will the right hon. and learned Gentleman do to ensure that we continue to maintain our frontier controls as we should?

Mr. Howard: The short answer is, no that is not true. I am not aware that, at the time, the Labour party was opposed to that particular article. I do not recall that the Opposition expressed any concern about it. The hon. Gentleman's hypothesis is quite untrue. We will take whatever steps are necessary to maintain our frontier controls.

Mr. Gallie: Is it not the case that, in stating that the Government would do whatever is necessary, the Government committed themselves to ensuring that those border controls remain? Is it not also the case that the words from Opposition Members are totally out of standing, especially when they would commit to virtually every European policy that is thrust upon us?

Mr. Howard: My hon. Friend is, of course, absolutely right. It may well be necessary, if we are to maintain our frontier controls, for us to be isolated in Europe, but that is the thing that the Labour party has said that it never would be. Labour Members never would be isolated in Europe. They never will exercise the veto. They will never stand up to defend our frontier controls. Only Conservative Members would be prepared to take the action that may be necessary to achieve that.

Probation Service, West Yorkshire

4. Mr. William O'Brien: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what plans he has to visit the West Yorkshire probation service to discuss probation services; and if he will make a statement.     [36507]

Mr. Howard: My noble Friend the Minister of State visited West Yorkshire probation service on 19 May. I have no immediate plans to visit the West Yorkshire service myself.

Mr. O'Brien: Has the Home Secretary seen the performance report of the West Yorkshire probation service for the past year? That report reveals a 16 per cent. increase in demand from courts--a 16 per cent. increase in the work of the probation service. The reward from the Home Secretary for that this year is a 4.5 per cent. cut in its cash limits. Will he give me an assurance and a guarantee that, so that the West Yorkshire community may receive the service to which it is entitled from the probation service, there will be no cuts in the coming year, so that the services can be guaranteed?

Mr. Howard: If the hon. Gentleman takes a slightly broader look at funding for the probation service in recent years, he will find that the picture is quite different. Specifically, if he considers the period between 1990 and 1994, he will notice a substantial increase in resources. It is no use the shadow Chancellor popping up on every


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radio station and saying that the Labour party will be rigorous on public spending if Labour Back Benchers repeatedly pop up in the House and ask for more money to be spent in every category in the public expenditure survey.

Raghbir Singh Johal

5. Mr. Winnick: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on the case of Mr. Raghbir Singh Johal.     [36508]

Mr. Howard: I am satisfied that Raghbir Singh Johal's deportation would be conducive to the public good for reasons of national security and would contribute to the fight against international terrorism. No action will be taken to remove him from the United Kingdom until the representations that he has made have been considered.

Mr. Winnick: Is the Home Secretary aware that my constituent, a lawful resident in Britain for many years, strenuously denies any involvement with terrorism? If there is any evidence relating to terrorism, why is my constituent not being charged, but has instead been held in prison since March on no charge whatsoever? Is his to be another case like that of the Sikh who has been held in prison for five years and who is bringing his case before the European Court? No charges have been made against that person either.

Mr. Howard: Because the exercise of the powers that I have referred to require me to take into account material that includes material which would not be admissible in a court of law. If the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that the law should be changed so that that material could not be taken into account in such circumstances, perhaps he would say so.

Casinos

6. Mr. Simon Coombs: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what representations he has received about the 48-hour rule for casinos.     [36511]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Timothy Kirkhope): We have received representations from the casino industry and a number of hon. Members. We are currently reviewing the present controls on casinos as part of the Government's deregulation initiative.

Mr. Coombs: May I be the first to welcome my hon. Friend to the Dispatch Box and to wish him every success in his new post? He will be well aware of the fact that the British casino industry is a substantial earner of foreign income for the country, but is subject to regulation that is outdated and outmoded. It would be very much in the country's interests if he were able to announce very soon the end of the Government's consultation period on the basis of the consultations that they have already had, and make proposals for the deregulation of that important industry.

Mr. Kirkhope: I thank my hon. Friend for his kind remarks. I commend him for the work that he does on behalf of the tourism industry in the United Kingdom and in his constituency. We are very close to reaching conclusions, having received representations. We are looking not only at the 48-hour rule for casinos, but at the


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issue of the permitted areas where they may operate. I hope that when we come to our conclusions we will balance the needs of deregulation with the needs for continued protection for the public, about which I know many hon. Members are also concerned.

Mr. George Howarth: I also welcome the Minister to his new responsibilities.

There is considerable concern among groups such as the bingo industry, the pools industry and betting shops about the unfair competition that they have experienced as a result of the introduction of the national lottery. We are prepared to hold talks with the Minister and any of his ministerial colleagues to look at ways in which those anomalies can be put right so that the industries and, more importantly, the jobs that depend on them, exist on a level playing field and face fair, not unfair, competition.

Mr. Kirkhope: We are well aware of that and have already made some progress in deregulation. If it helps the hon. Gentleman I can say that I am certainly willing, as always, to meet any delegations on that basis. Our considerations at present include not only casinos, but bingo and bingo halls.

Mr. Robert Banks: I also welcome my hon. Friend to the Dispatch Box and much appreciate what he has just said. Does he agree that towns, particularly conference towns such as Harrogate in my constituency, which he knows well, should be able to qualify for casino licences to save business visitors the necessity of travelling to Leeds for their entertainment?

Mr. Kirkhope: As the Member for Leeds, North-East, I have a slightly mixed view. My hon. Friend is right; our considerations, as I said before, include permitted areas. We shall certainly look at representations from towns such as Harrogate and, of course, Swindon.

Police Advisory Committee for London

7. Mr. Spearing: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department on which dates the police advisory committee for London has met since 1 January; and if he will place a copy of its minutes of proceedings in the Library.     [36512]

Mr. Howard: The Metropolitan Police Committee met on 27 February, 21 March, 25 April, 25 May, 22 June, 19 July, 21 September and 6 October. Its sub-committees, on remuneration matters and performance indicators, have met separately on several occasions.

The duty of the Metropolitan Police Committee is to advise Ministers on policy and the minutes of its meetings are therefore confidential. I expect the chairman to produce an annual report and I shall place a copy of that in the Library in due course.

Mr. Spearing: Does not the Home Secretary think that non-publication of minutes is a hierarchical and undemocratic practice? Will he confirm that the principal duties that he has asked the Committee to perform relating to budgets and finance reflect the wrong attitude to public service, both in terms of the Government as a whole and his own particular style? Is not that specific quango,


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which probably spends between £300,000 and £400,000 a year, an affront to the citizens of London, whatever their political view?

Mr. Howard: The answers to the three questions posed by the hon. Gentleman are no, no and no.

Mr. Harry Greenway: Does my right hon. and learned Friend believe that the police advisory committee for London will have as much chance of success as the borough police consultative committees currently have, including wide representations in boroughs? Does my right hon. and learned Friend remember that the Labour party bitterly opposed the establishment of the borough consultative committees, particularly in Ealing and Hackney, and refused to serve on them for many years?

Mr. Howard: My hon. Friend is entirely right. That is a part of the Labour party's record that it would prefer to forget, but many of us remember it. I am confident that the Metropolitan Police Committee will play an important part in improving the way in which policing in London can involve the community.

Private Security Industry

8. Mr. Bennett: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will introduce statutory regulation of the private security industry.     [36513]

9. Mr. Tony Banks: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will introduce statutory regulation of the private security industry.     [36514]

Mr. Maclean: The case for regulation is currently being considered. The Home Affairs Select Committee report on that issue made a number of very helpful recommendations and we shall respond to it as soon as possible.

Mr. Bennett: Given that the respectable part of the industry is keen to have proper regulation and given that it is now more than four months since the Home Affairs Select Committee gave its report and the Government are supposed to reply after two months, is it not high time that there were some proposals for proper regulation or is the Deputy Prime Minister vetoing that?

Mr. Maclean: The private security industry has grown up in the past 20 or 25 years and the bulk of the industry works perfectly well without any need for regulation. The Home Affairs Select Committee identified one sector with potential problems. In view of the time span of the growth of the industry, I think that it is quite legitimate for the Government to take the time that they have since the Home Affairs Select Committee reported to consider the matters carefully before rushing into implementing any proposals. Of course, we shall want to respond to the Select Committee as soon as we can and we shall want to give a detailed and considered reply to the main points in its recommendations.

Mr. Tony Banks: We all know that the Government have no standards whatsoever as to their normal conduct, but what about people's concerns about low wages, no regulation and no guarantee of public safety in the private security industry? Does the Minister rule out entirely any form of regulation in that industry?

Mr. Maclean: If the hon. Gentleman were to read my evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee, he would know the answer to that question. We are considering carefully all options for that sector.


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As to the hon. Gentleman's jibe about standards, if he wants to root out criminals and fraudsters, perhaps he should go to Hackney council and sort out the corruption in its housing department. Perhaps he could then pop into Labour-controlled Islington, with its crazy policy of employing paedophiles, pimps and perverts to work with children.

Sir Peter Fry: There is concern about the issue on Conservative Benches as well as on Opposition Benches. I know of many examples of people having to work ridiculously long hours for exceedingly low pay, which raises many questions about how secure the security companies really are. When the Minister replies to the Select Committee's report, I hope that he will put forward some concrete proposals to strengthen the position and to drive the cowboys out of that very important industry.

Mr. Maclean: As someone who used to undertake such work 15 or 20 years ago, I am of course aware that part of the security industry is low paid. However, I think that my hon. Friend would be the first to acknowledge that self-regulation works perfectly well in the bulk of the security industry--particularly on the technological and electronic alarm sides. The Home Affairs Select Committee identified only one sector where there was a potential problem. Nevertheless, that sector deserves careful consideration and we are considering it at the moment.

Mr. Jenkin: Is my right hon. Friend aware of the difficulties that security companies face in trying to employ people without criminal records? Will he ensure that that issue is examined so that the security companies may be certain that their employees do not have criminal records?

Mr. Maclean: My hon. Friend is right to draw my attention to that aspect of the policy. In considering the Home Affairs Select Committee report, we must examine whether changes to the present rules for vetting potential employees are necessary. That requires careful consideration of the impact of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, and we are looking at whether it will be possible to gather more information about prospective employees in order to prevent the employment of people with criminal records, without undermining the principles of the Act.

Mr. Beith: Until we have a proper system of regulation that will stop criminals moving into the industry--as some have done already--will the Minister give an assurance that neither the Home Office nor any of its agencies employ any security firms that do not belong to the industry's self-regulating organisation? But perhaps that is an operational detail of the kind that the Minister does not like to be involved in.

Mr. Maclean: No. It would be contrary to European regulations to exclude companies automatically on the basis that they do not belong to a trade organisation. Government Departments operate a quality threshold policy and if any company meets the quality standards of a contract, that company can be given the business, irrespective of whether it belongs to a trade union or a trade association.

Mr. Straw: Is the Minister aware, not least from the concerns expressed by the hon. Members for


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Wellingborough (Sir P. Fry) and for Colchester, North (Mr. Jenkin), of the mounting concern that, in many parts of the country, the private security industry does indeed employ criminals, who are organised into companies to continue their criminal activities under the guise of providing private security? Is he aware that the Home Affairs Select Committee concluded that there was a growing problem of totally unregistered private locally patrolling operations, often preying on the fears of vulnerable people? Given the intense concern on both sides of the House, does the Minister accept that he really should show much more than the complacency that he has demonstrated to the House today and move swiftly ahead with the proper regulation of that sector of the industry?

Mr. Maclean: We all know that when the Opposition study an opinion poll and find that people dislike noisy neighbours, they rush into promises of draconian legislation to deal with that week's problem. The private security industry is very important. It is also a large industry which is important to Britain's export needs. The first point to acknowledge is that the bulk of the industry has been given a clean bill of health. The fact that the Home Office and the Home Affairs Select Committee have been reviewing it means that we take the potential problem very seriously. When we have reached our conclusions, we shall announce them in due course.

Fire Service, Wales

11. Mr. Roy Hughes: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what further discussions he has had with local authorities concerning proposals for the reorganisation of the fire service in Wales.     [36516]

Mr. Kirkhope: My right hon. and noble Friend met a deputation from the Assembly of Welsh Counties on 22 August. In the light of the recently completed consultation process on the proposed combined fire authorities, the Government have decided, after careful consideration, to introduce a three-brigade structure for the fire service in Wales from next April.

Mr. Hughes: Does the Minister appreciate that the local authorities now consider that the original consultation process was flawed because of inaccurate information? They are now calling for further meetings with Lady Blatch to consider a proposal for a voluntary combination of the five new unitary authorities in Gwent to run the Gwent fire brigade which, incidentally, has the best response rate in the whole of the United Kingdom. Could we please now have some help and co-operation from the Government?

Mr. Kirkhope: An extremely thorough consultation took place. Indeed, the proposals to move to three brigades were first put forward as long ago as March 1993, since when there have been many more contributions to consultation. I do not think that anything substantive has occurred since we concluded the consultation process. Certainly I am always willing to talk to the hon. Gentleman about any matter, including this, but the announcement has been made with good evidence that it will improve the efficiency and good running of the service in Wales for the benefit of the Welsh people.


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Carl Bridgewater Murder Case

12. Dr. Lynne Jones: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he expects to make an announcement about a referral of the case of the men convicted of the murder of Carl Bridgewater back to the Court of Appeal.     [36517]

Mr. Kirkhope: We expect to complete our consideration of this case very soon.

Dr. Jones: That is good news as far as it goes. Three men have been in prison for 18 years for a crime that they did not commit and one man has died in gaol. Even the foreman of the jury says that they are innocent. It has been two and a half years since new evidence has been presented to the Home Office and I am glad that, at long last, a decision may be taken soon. Two and a half years is a long time. I know that the Home Secretary has had a lot on his mind, but if he had paid more attention to miscarriages of justice instead of interfering in the day-to-day running of prisons, perhaps he would not be in the mess he is in today.

Mr. Kirkhope: I am afraid that the hon. Lady seems to misunderstand the process of justice in Britain. We have had the matter examined extremely thoroughly. Although it has taken a long time, that is very important because of the matters that have been raised by many people. They have been considered most carefully. We want to see that justice is properly done and, as I said to the hon. Lady, we expect to complete the consideration and make an announcement very soon.

Asylum Seekers

13. Mr. John Marshall: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement about the number of asylum seekers.     [36518]

Miss Widdecombe: The number of asylum applications in the United Kingdom rose from 22,400 in 1993 to 32,800 in 1994--an increase of 45 per cent. The figures are continuing to rise sharply and are expected to exceed 40,000 in 1995. Few applicants are genuine refugees. It is clear that further action is needed to strengthen our defences against exploitation of our asylum system. A statement about that will be made shortly.

Mr. Marshall: Does my hon. Friend agree that many so-called asylum seekers regard this country as a soft touch? Is it not the case that 80 per cent. of people who apply for asylum in this country eventually have to return home? Is not it the case also that some people who apply for asylum are illegal immigrants facing deportation from this country? Does not the whole country--with the exception of Opposition Front Benchers--welcome the Government's determination to clamp down on bogus asylum seekers, so that genuine cases can be dealt with much more quickly?

Miss Widdecombe: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Only 5 per cent. of appeals against our refusals are upheld. Asylum is often used as a last resort by people who have exhausted every other possible method, including illegal entry. We are tired of being taken for a ride, and it is undeniably true that genuine applicants suffer from the activities of applicants who are not genuine. It is our firm intention to curtail their activities.


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Race Relations

14. Mr. Bayley: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement about race relations in the United Kingdom.     [36519]

Mr. Howard: I believe that the United Kingdom can be proud of its record on race relations, which is significantly better than that in most comparable countries. Of course there is always room for improvement, and the Government will continue their policy of promoting good race relations combined with firm but fair immigration control.

Mr. Bayley: Does the Home Secretary agree that it was most damaging to race relations when the chairman of the Conservative party used the televised platform of the Conservative party conference to pour scorn on the work of the Hopscotch Asian women's project in Camden? Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman urge the right hon. Member for Peterborough (Dr. Mawhinney) to apologise to the Princess Royal, who has just visited that project because it is funded by the Save the Children Fund? Will he also apologise to his own Department, which last year gave the Hopscotch project a grant?

Mr. Howard: No, I will not do any of those things. I am happy to say that I am in frequent communication with my right hon. Friend and I know that he takes the cause of promoting good race relations as seriously as any Member of the House.

Mr. Budgen: Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that good race relations depends to a great extent on firm immigration control? He is to be congratulated on his attitude to border controls. It is believed that, since 1984, a quarter of a million Sikhs have sought asylum in Germany. If there were not good border controls, there would be a strong chance that those Sikhs would join their many relatives in places such as Wolverhampton.

Mr. Howard: I agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of firm but fair immigration control, particularly in the context of the need to maintain our present system of frontier controls.

Violent Crime

15. Mrs. Gorman: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what plans he has to revise Government policy on punishment for criminals who kill in the course of committing a crime.     [36520]

Mr. Maclean: There are no plans to review existing policy.

Mrs. Gorman: Will my right hon. Friend accept the congratulations of my constituents on the pledge given by the Home Secretary last week at the Conservative party conference that second offenders in violent crime will in future probably receive a life sentence? Will my right hon. Friend acknowledge that persons who commit violent acts or murder while committing a crime should receive the death penalty?

Mr. Maclean: My hon. Friend knows my personal views on capital punishment. We probably differ only at the drawing and quartering stage. She knows also, however, that it is not a matter for Government determination; capital punishment is one for the will of


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the House. The House has made its intentions clear over the years and the Government have no intention of attempting to change that policy.

Fire Authorities

16. Mr. Jim Cunningham: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what representations he has received on the reduction in services that fire authorities have to make as a result of expenditure shortfalls.     [36521]

Mr. Kirkhope: Representations about the level of financial provision available to fire authorities have been received from a number of hon. Members and others. My right hon. and learned Friend's approval is required under section 19 of the Fire Services Act 1947 before any reduction in the number of fire stations, fire appliances or firefighting posts in a brigade can be made, and is given only when he is satisfied that the normally recommended minimum levels of fire cover will be maintained. I understand that the West Midlands fire and civil defence authority is meeting all its statutory obligations.

Mr. Cunningham: Is the Minister aware that the West Midlands fire brigade pension fund is about £7 million in deficit? Does he realise that that could result in further cuts in the service? What does he propose to do?


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